Energy Smart & Secure Communities

When it comes to the post disaster space, where I spent a decent amount of time working with military forces trying to figure out how to be more effective in such situations (whether post natural or man-made disasters), there was a major ‘lesson’ that many came to in the 1980s and 1990s: effectiveness (in saving people, reducing future risks, being efficient in use of resources) requires coordination across organizations and coordination across phases. As to ‘phases’, which aren’t necessarily cleanly differentiated, the Three Rs:

  • Relief: Life saving and getting minimal functions going for preserving life and reducing damage risks.
  • Recovery: Help society move into a functioning stage so that people don’t need to leave and outside assistance can be reduced.
  • Reconstruction: Measures to boost economic and social strength to pre-disaster levels (or, even better, better than pre-disaster).

In terms of using resources efficiently and having the best chances for a better tomorrow, integrating across these phases as much as (reasonably) possible is key.  If one can do something in “relief” that continues into and contributes to “recovery” and is a player (lays foundations) for “reconstruction”, it is like getting a triple whammy.  And, there is a fourth R: Resiliency: if that measure helps contributes to the potential for reducing future risks, a grand slam is in play.

For example, when it comes to shelter, tents are relief and rarely into recovery.  Having a container housing unit, like the US and allied militaries have used in places like Bosnia-i-Herzegovina and Iraq, blends from relief (quickly on site, quick to install) into recovery (housing elements that can stay around awhile). Deploying such ‘container’ units with plans and ways to incorporate into rebuilt infrastructure with (let’s say) high-wind and earthquake resistance takes that ‘shelter’ investment into a triple whammy or grand-slam solution. Now, a container is more expensive than a tent — but that is a lasting investment rather than a (hopefully very) temporary path to the problem.

In my space, distributed renewable energy is the blaring example of how to integrate across the Three Rs.  As the grid gets knocked down, in places around the world, the diesel generators kick in and disaster relief organizations send in lots of them. That translates into high-cost and high-pollution demand for diesel fuel — which, by the way, undermines the Three Rs through resource demands (transportation of that diesel fuel and, of course, the cost of fuel).  With the revolution in renewables — especially, in this context, solar pv and associated systems (micro-grid controls, storage, energy efficient devices (like LED lights) — the costs of going ‘green’ in the disaster relief, rather than polluting diesel generators, has now gotten advantaged to the clean energy option.  And, unlike the diesel generator, it is quite straightforward to integrate a solar system across the ThreeRs.  And, while doing so, build the solar system in.

For US disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) needs to update its approaches — clean energy systems need to be a growing part of the ‘fly away’ kit for helping get emergency power to communities blacked-out by disasters (like New York/New Jersey post Sandy and Puerto Rico today, after Maria).  And, the US government requires an integrated approach to this so the ‘fly-away’ solar is done in a way that enables rapid creation of small micro-grids to address relief that facilities recovery and contributes to reconstruction.  And, the installations should proceed down a path so that the next time a climate-enhanced disaster hits the community, the solar keeps the lights on and lowers the costs/challenges of that next disaster’s Three Rs.

Learning from disasters and reducing risks into the future pays off: look at Houston’s hospitals in Hurricane Harvey.  Looking at Puerto Rico’s electricity situation, any honest analysis would conclude (differing, of course, as to specifics and how much and ..) that a rapid deployment of micro-grid solar would flow across the Three Rs and is a smart triple whammy path to help people and the economy.

Across the Three Rs, there are many ways that clean energy can and should be included in a Four R solution.  Here is just one example:

Greening Schools: Greening schools has tremendous benefits. Including a micro-grid provides tremendous benefit in terms of energy assuredness during disaster in a key shelter (school gyms house how many in disasters) while also facilitating more rapid restart of the educational system post disaster.  A rapid deployment of micro-grids to Puerto Rico’s schools could help the educational system get up and running while providing greater resiliency into the future. A Four R solution.

A decade ago, as part of a energy policy work called Energize America 2020, we proposed to a number of candidates the Energy Smart Communities Act.   Those measures would provide for greater resiliency in the face of natural or man-made disasters.

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Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on October 5, 2017.


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